City Deal: looking forward

What are we to make of the Edinburgh City Region Deal, asks Gavin Corbett.

City Deals have been around for a few years now, and typically involve investment to stimulate the local economy and so create savings through reduced unemployment, higher taxes and so on.

Edinburgh’s deal was announced last week. Let’s start with the positives. Additional investment in the city region is welcome – especially when it is in the order of hundreds of millions of pounds. It’s less than what was expected and it depends how it is spent, but, overall, good news.

The centrepiece of the programme – building on our universities as centres of excellence in the knowledge economy is a strong and forward-looking proposition. Equally welcome is £25m for a regional skills programme to ensure that the hoped-for 21,000 jobs generated actually go to people who most need them.

But there are four ways in which the City Region Deal could be so much better.

Firstly, on transport. A truly forward-looking City Deal should help to transform way people and goods move around the region – with commitments to train connections in Fife and Lothians, tram and strategic cycle routes all part of the mix – rather than so many eggs being put in the Sheriffhall roundabout basket.

Secondly, on housing: what is on the table is way less than what is needed, especially at the kinds of costs which people can actually afford. Homes where prices are kept reasonable long term, focusing on brownfield land, and where the quality stands the test of time in 2050 is where we need to be going.

Thirdly, let’s build on some local strengths. I’d love to see the city region’s fast-expanding social enterprises and social entrepreneurs recognised as a real asset. And the inclusion of Queen Margaret University in the programme is a unique opportunity to build a proper regional food economy.

And, finally, the best City Deals in England have been as much about powers as pounds. Even a modest transfer of powers from national government- such as the right to introduce a tourist levy to fund services; to take more pro-active steps to acquire and prepare brownfield land; or to plan region-wide for energy supply and demand – would all signal a welcome recognition that councils can lead change.

Is there scope to improve the City Deal? It is a 15 year programme so there is no reason why not. The rest is choices.